Mon | Aug 21, 2017

The Milk River Trek

Published:Sunday | March 6, 2016 | 3:00 AMJoan Williams
Fellow hikers enjoy a warm, soothing bath.
Milk River Park also featured some interesting signs and paintings.
Food time in the newly refurbished dining room.
Milk River Park also featured some interesting signs and paintings.
A copy of Joan Williams' book, 'Tour Jamaica'.
Joan Williams
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The Milk River Bath in southern Clarendon is so named after the river which feeds it and also provides important irrigation to the surrounding sugar cane and livestock farms.

The river is said to be infested with crocodiles, as confirmed by some local fishermen we recently saw in canoes on the water who, when we asked what they were fishing for, quipped "crocodiles".

The bath's highly radioactive water, however, does not come from the river, but from springs beneath the Milk River Bath property itself. Patrons are warned not to stay in the lovely baths of running radioactive water for longer than 10 to 20 minutes at a time, and to take no more than three baths per day. The water flowing through the baths is warm and at a constant 90 to 95 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year. It is said to have high levels of magnesium, calcium, sulphates, and natural chloride, which is said helps to alleviate the pains associated with rheumatism, arthritis, sciatica, and nerve complaints.

These baths were opened in 1794. According to legend, a slave owned by one Jonathan Ludford was brutally whipped and locked away in a dungeon. Severely wounded while imprisoned, he vowed never to be a slave again. He managed to break out of his chains and escape. Days later, he returned to the estate in full health, completely healed of all the wounds he received only a few days earlier.

SLAVE LIBERATOR

He encouraged the others to run away with him, telling them also about the remarkable salty spring in which he bathed. Everyone who saw him was amazed at the recovery. Soon, word reached the owner of the estate, who had ordered him punished. Ludford himself was astounded at the recovery, and promised to grant the slave freedom if he revealed the location of the spring. The slave led a party to the location, and Ludford promptly acquired the spring and the lands around it, starting the Milk River Bath.

Upon his death, Ludford bequeathed all the property and land to the Government and people of Jamaica for the benefit of all who needed to use it.

On my previous visit to the baths around 10 years ago, it was in ramshackle condition with mildew around the edges of the baths and the rails all rusty and corroded and it was then that I had decided never to return.

However, in September 2015, Minister of Tourism Wykeham McNeill announced a $50-million project to rehabilitate the Milk River Bath. The project included:

• demolition and alterations;

n upgrading of electrical and plumbing systems, ceiling and floor;

n replacement of leaking and damaged roof

n painting and decorating

In November 2015, sixty-eight of us from the Fun & Thrills Adventure Club cycled or hiked to the baths. Our dozen or so most athletic members cycled from Kingston, while the rest of us drove to Osborne Store, then headed south to Gravel Hill Primary School, where we parked to hike the remaining eight kilometres to the bath, while some of the younger members jogged the eight kilometres.

While waiting at the school for everyone to converge, we were greeted by a young Rasta youth from Gravel Hill, who rode up on his bicycle to welcome us. He and 'Dada', my yoga instructor from Ananda Marga, took the waiting time to indulge in animated philosophical conversation and later 'Dada' admitted to me that their philosophies had a lot in common.

The walk to the bath was easy, scenic and fun. We passed a nicely decorated area called Milk River Park, which also featured some interesting paintings and signs. Among these were signs calling for the legalisation of obeah and one purporting to be a drawing of our ancestors!

At Milk River itself, I was disappointed to see that despite the announcement earlier in the year of the $50-million rehabilitation project, not much work seems to have been done. The only visible signs of refurbishment were that the baths had been retiled and some roofing work seems to have been done and the dining room retiled and painted. However, the rusty rails remained in the bath we used. Hopefully, the next time I return, we will indeed see $50 million worth of rehabilitation!

I, however, found the newly tiled baths available quite relaxing and refreshing. I was even amazed to hear that one of our members who cycled from Kingston, our resident daredevil Barry Morgan, happily dived back and forth underwater in a bath of only eight feet in length!

After an invigorating soak in the warm soothing water it was food time in the newly refurbished dining room which has a beautiful decor and is now lovely and airy. The food was great, too, with all of us eating and drinking to our hearts' content.

This was a very happy enjoyable day with the Fun & Thrills Adventure Club on expedition at The Milk River Baths.

Too soon it was time to return and some of our strong cyclists who had earlier cycled to Milk River from Mona, announced that they would be riding back. Wow, and that is exactly what they did in the hot, blazing midday sun. No problem.

The rest of us returned basking in air-conditioned vehicles with some skipping the highway to go through Old Harbour to indulge in hot delicious jerked chicken, pork, and cold drinks.

Yup. Milk River is definitely back on my agenda now as I continue to enjoy this beautiful country of ours.

n Joan Williams, moderator of Joan Williams on Line broadcast on Power 106, describes herself as an unapologetic addict to the Jamaican outdoors. A foundation member of The Fun and Thrills Adventure Club, she explores the island at any given opportunity cycling, hiking or swimming with that group, family and anyone else who will have her. In 1995, she published Tour Jamaica with the 4th edition now an ebook available at; http://www.amazon.com/Tour-Jamaica-Joan-Williams-ebook/dp/B00EJWCSHS/ref.. Contact: gratestj@gmail.com.